27 Aug 2012

Africa needs to unite through peaceful means

Written by  Adekeye Adebajo

No. 223: Africa needs to unite through peaceful means / Adekeye Adebayo / Business Day
27 August 2012

Africa's citizens must negotiate federations and regional trade blocs that better reflect the political, socioeconomic and cultural realities of a vast continent, writes Adekeye Adebayo

The recent summit of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) in Maputo predictably focused on conflict resolution, governance, and economic integration: urgent priorities for all of Africa's five subregions. Debates centred on the continuing crises in Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congo; political instability in Zimbabwe; and a regional infrastructure plan to increase trade in Southern Africa.

Starting our journey of Africa's five subregions at the Cape, South Africa accounts for three-quarters of the subregional economy. Tshwane also leads regional peacemaking efforts in the Congo, Madagascar, and Zimbabwe. In two short decades, South Africa, the most destabilising force in Africa under apartheid, has now become its most energetic peacemaker. Sadc members have signed protocols which have sometimes been honoured more in the breach than the observance. Swaziland's absolutist monarchy, Zimbabwe's increasingly militarised semi-autocracy, and Botswana's militarised dominant party state could fuel further instability.

Between 1960 and 1990, West Africa experienced about half of all successful military coups on the continent. Ethnic "warrior enclaves" dominated the top echelons of militaries in Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, and Nigeria. West Africa has thus been among the most volatile regions in the world. Local brushfires have raged from Liberia to Sierra Leone to Guinea to Guinea-Bissau to Senegal to Côte d'Ivoire. More recently, militaries in Niger, Guinea-Conakry, Mali, Guinea-Bissau and Burkina Faso have threatened stability. Islamist militants have declared an independent state in northern Mali, as soldiers and politicians in Bamako fiddle.

West African leaders established one of Africa's earliest security mechanisms in 1999, and subsequently developed a governance protocol. But as with Sadc, the Economic Community of West African States' political alchemists will not transform lead into gold through legislating bad governance out of existence. The local hegemon is oil-rich Nigeria, with 75% of West Africa's economic might and over half of its population. The country has led peacekeeping efforts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea-Bissau, but with political and religion-fuelled strife and a staggeringly kleptocratic elite, it is unclear whether West Africa's Gulliver will be a force for stability or instability.

Putting the Congolese Humpty Dumpty back together again will also be difficult. Although the Congo is in central rather than Southern Africa, it is a member of Sadc. The conflict in the Congo continues to destabilise the Great Lakes, to draw in neighbours such as Rwanda and Uganda, and to reduce the potential of the mineral-rich Congo to lead this subregion. Nine neighbours have sent troops at various times since 1998 to feed on the Congolese carcass. Last year's violence-marred elections, which kept Joseph Kabila in power, has diminished the government's legitimacy, even as conflict continues in Kivu and Orientale provinces. Poor governance in repressive Rwanda and still fragile Burundi will also need to be closely watched.

On the volatile Horn of Africa, flawed elections have been witnessed in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda; personal rule in Eritrea; jihadism in Sudan; and continuing anarchy in acephalous Somalia. The subregion has also been deeply divided, with states either waging war against each other or supporting each other's rebels. Security sector reform and democratic governance will be vital if South Sudan is to thrive as a viable state in this rough neighbourhood. The success of the Thabo Mbeki-led mediation between Khartoum and Juba will be critical to getting both sides to stop rattling sabres. Africans must also be vigilant that the US's continuing drone strikes in Somalia and obsession with "mad mullahs" do not further destabilise an already turbulent subregion.

We finally arrive in Cairo. Bad governance has bedevilled North Africa, with oil-rich Algeria unable to assume its rightful role as the hegemon of the Maghreb. This followed a bloody civil war that erupted in 1991 after the military annulled elections that Islamist parties were poised to win. The subregion spawned mummified Pharaohs who relied heavily on military brass hats to keep them in power. The withdrawal of support by the army was critical in the "Afro-Arab spring" that erupted last year, toppling autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. These cataclysmic events will reach sub-Saharan Africa.

With intra-African trade estimated at below 10%, its 800-million citizens must now negotiate federations and regional trade blocs that better reflect the political, socio-economic, and cultural realities of a vast continent. Regional security mechanisms need to be urgently strengthened. Democratic governance and genuine regional integration should also be pursued. Subregional hegemons such as South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, and Algeria must lead the charge.

Cecil Rhodes once dreamed of building an African empire stretching from the Cape to Cairo. Contemporary Africans must turn this pillaging nightmare on its head by uniting their continent through peaceful means.

Adebajo is executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution, Cape Town, and author of The Curse of Berlin: Africa After the Cold War

This article is the first in a series of fortnightly columns written by Adekeye Adebajo for Business Day every other Monday

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